ACM Ubiquity: Immersed in the Future: Randy Pausch on the Future of Education

And so, when people say, well, how do you feel having a career doing all this frivolity, I hasten to point out that the number of computer science majors in America last year declined by 23 percent. The direct implications to American productivity, quality of life and educated citizenry and national defense could not be more stark. Not producing enough computer scientists is a mission-critical way to fail for a modern society, and I'm the only guy in town that I know of with a potential solution to that problem. Yet I'm the one being called frivolous?

I know Randy's been criticized for working on research considered "non-serious", but he's got an important point here. It sort of reminds me of when people start out saying, "if only people were better, then we could...". Well, the problem is that millenia of recorded human history strongly suggest that people aren't better, and it's a fact we have to deal with. And if being entertaining improves retention, learning, and quality of life, why does it have to be an either-or choice?

I like this quote:

It's not an accident that the highest rates of academic dishonesty occur in introductory programming courses, and that's not just because it's mechanically easy to copy code; the reason is that we put people into the most frustrating situation in the world...

I imagine, if you wanted people to cheat the most in freshman composition, you would say, you have to write a five-page paper, and you can't use any tools other than some very crude editing system that doesn't do spelling correction or anything else. You submit your five-page paper, and if there's any spelling or grammatical errors in it, you get told there's a problem in your paper somewhere on page two. And if you can beat your way all the way through that, then you get to submit your five-page paper, and the professor will read it and grade it on its merits. Oh, and by the way, this course will be taught in Sanskrit. I mean, literally, that's what we do to people in intro programming. And then we have a community of people who, I think it's a fair assessment, that if you measured the social skills across the disciplines, computer scientists, shall I be generous and say, won't end up in the top half. And we wonder why a lot of people never take their first programming course. And if they do, we don't get a lot of them to go on to a second one.


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